~350 words, 2 min read time
This semester, I’m trying to do a better job doing research, so I’ve adopted a “1 hour writing per working day” goal, with the guidelines to (1) Finish a rough draft within 1 month of starting it, and (2) Spend no more than 1 month polishing before I send the paper to a journal. This is a MUCH faster pace that I normally work on research. Hey, I’m a teacher at heart, so it’s easy for me to focus on that.
Anyway, I’m writing this blog entry to remind myself some important guidance that I’ve gotten about writing introductions. It’s really just two points:
(1) Write the introduction last – Okay, maybe not literally “last” – you might write it before the abstract – but, definitely after the core and conclusion of the paper are written.
(2) The introduction should include 5 elements: (a) it should answer the question “What?” – that is, what is the question you’re answering? (b) it should answer the question “Why?” – why does this research matter? (c) it should show “deficiencies” in the previous literature – that is, why aren’t the previous answers good enough? (d) it should state the exact “gap” that it fills – this should be connected with the deficiencies in c. (e) it should summarize the results. – You’re not writing a mystery novel. Most people will just read the abstract of your paper. Most of those that continue will just read the introduction and, maybe the conclusion. Use that fact. Yes, it can be personally upsetting that people don’t read every word you write. But, playing hard to get in the intro is more likely to lose you citations than to convince people to read the entire paper.
Based on #2, any paper is actually 5 papers in one, because people will read the papers in five different ways. The paper should be written so that all of these make sense and they are all consistent.
Reader #1: Just the Abstract
Reader #2: Abstract, Introduction
Reader #3: Abstract, Introduction, Conclusion.
Reader #4: Abstract, Introduction, Body, Conclusion
Reader #5: Abstract, Introduction, Conclusion, Body, Conclusion
Write the Abstract, Intro, and Conclusion with these five readers in mind.